Spring 2011 • Vol. XXXIII No. 2 NonfictionApril 1, 2011 |

Helen Keller Answers the Iron

Though I'd rather have been one of the boys who could smack a baseball solidly with a bat, my talent was telling jokes. I was fascinated in them as mechanisms—machines made of words, to use William Carlos Williams's definition of poetry. I tinkered with them as obsessively as other boys enjoyed taking apart radios, jack-in-the-boxes, and frogs to see what was inside. In bed at night, walking home from school, sitting in church, I sharpened the details of jokes, changing the settings, naming the characters after kids in my classes, and altering elements that had flopped the last time. I didn't even have to try to memorize jokes. After I heard a joke, I, like an elephant, never forgot. Other kids knew a few elephant jokes, but I knew them all. I even convinced my mother to buy me a book of elephant jokes. I had to cash in my birthday wish to do it, and still it took some lobbying, arguing, and whining because Mom did not—emphatically did not—see the point in spending good mo

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Andrew Hudgins teaches at Ohio State University. His most recent book is American Rendering: New and Selected Poems. In June, Simon and Schuster will publish The Joker: A Memoir and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish A Clown at Midnight.

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